Yesterday in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, ahead of the planned walkout of the trans employee resource group (ERG) at Netflix, the CEO of the streaming service, Ted Sarandos, finally admitted that he “screwed up” in the way he chose to defend Dave Chappelle’s stand-up special.
“What I should have led with in those emails was humanity,” Sarandos told the WSJ. “I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting.” He also admitted that suggesting that content doesn’t have real-world harm was an oversimplification. “To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world … sometimes quite negative,” he said.
Sarandos did, however, continue to defend the special, adding, “We have articulated to our employees that there are going to be things you don’t like … But we are trying to entertain a world with varying tastes and varying sensibilities and various beliefs, and I think this special was consistent with that.”
I don’t know why this is so difficult for people like Sarandos — or, ahem, Joe Rogan — or all the other people who have rushed to Chappelle’s defense to understand, or why they think that transphobic jokes are different from homophobic jokes or racist jokes. If Shane Gillis had said in a stand-up special, “I’m with David Duke! I’m Team Nazi,” I don’t think that anyone would argue that he didn’t cross the line. Why is “I’m with J.K. Rowling! I’m Team TERF” any different?
The ERG will follow through with the planned walk-out today despite Sarandos’ apology. They also have a list of demands, and not among them is asking Netflix to pull the Chapelle special, which I honestly think is being generous. What they are asking for — in addition to a promise to hire trans and non-binary content executives — is that transphobic content be labeled, and that trans-affirming content receive equal promotion. It’s really not too much to ask; in fact, it’s downright charitable, because Netflix would not — I imagine — label racist content as such and then promote anti-racist content alongside it. They’d pull the racist content. It’s 2021. The trans and non-binary communities should not be receiving second-class protections. They should be afforded the same rights — both legal and moral — as other protected groups.